Our lead story this week is the most extraordinary tale of one man’s devotion to judicial independence. It is about a judge in Thailand who decided on death rather than dishonouring his oath of office. But, like the two other stories, it is also about the death penalty.
Judge Khanakorn Pianchana had found he should acquit the accused on trial before him. Before he could deliver his judgment, however, the chief judge ordered him to change his verdict: Instead of acquittal, three of the accused were to be sentenced to death; the other two to life imprisonment. Had he agreed to this, not only would he have violated his oath of office in obedience to political demands, he would also have sent three people to death row, unconvinced that they were guilty.
This is the World Day against the Death Penalty. With its warning about executions for political reasons, the case of Judge Khanakorn is as much about the problems of capital punishment as is Tanzania’s latest, unsuccessful, challenge to the mandatory death penalty and Uganda’s shocking commitment to reintroduce a ‘kill the gays’ law that will see the death penalty imposed for homosexuality.
But times are changing, thanks to interventions like that of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Its 2015 draft African Protocol on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa was intended to help the continent’s states move away from capital punishment. The figures speak for themselves. In 1990 a single African country, Cape Verde, had abolished the death penalty. Just 30 years later, only 16 African countries still retain and implement the death penalty.
- Editorial, newsletter, Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa), 11 October 2019